Lone Wolf Sullivan is a writer, songwriter, and studio musician.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Gilligan's Island (1964 – 1967) * * ½

In Hawaii, bumbling first mate Gilligan and the blustery Skipper give tours on their boat the S.S. Minnow. Five passengers board for a 3 hour tour: a movie star from Hollywood, a General Store sale's clerk in Kansas, a professor, and a millionaire couple. A storm comes in, the crew are unable to handle the boat, and the castaways wake up on a deserted Island. Despite their situation, they manage to survive on a diet of fish and coconut cream pie, live in huts made from sticks and leaves, and are aided by their transistor radio and a never-ending parade of guest stars who drop by their "deserted" island. Guests include a big game hunter, a movie producer, a mad scientist, a rock band, Russian cosmonauts, foreign spies and a jungle boy. But they never manage to rescue the castaways to safety.

GILLIGAN'S ISLAND was an American TV sitcom originally produced by United Artists Television. It aired for three seasons on the CBS network, from September 26, 1964 to September 4, 1967. The show follows the comic adventures of seven castaways as they attempt to survive and ultimately escape from a previously uninhabited island where they were shipwrecked.

Bob Denver plays Gilligan as a bumbling, dimwitted, accident-prone idiot. Denver previously played beatnik Maynard G. Krebs in the TV sitcom THE MANY LOVES OF DOBIE GILLIS. None of the show's episodes ever specified Gilligan's full name, nor clearly indicated whether "Gilligan" was the character's first name or his last. On the DVD collection, Sherwood Schwartz states that he preferred the full name of "Willie Gilligan" for the character. Denver himself, in various TV/radio interviews said that "Gil Eggan" was his choice. The actor reasoned that because everyone yelled at the first mate, it ran together as "Gilligan". In the (unaired) pilot episode, it has been debated whether Lovey Howell refers to Gilligan as "Stewart", or steward. On RESCUE FROM GILLIGAN'S ISLAND, the writers artfully dodge the recitation of Gilligan's full name, when the other names are announced.

Gilligan: Skipper, should I pick the yellow bananas or the red bananas, because the yellow bananas are green.
Skipper: Then pick the red ones.
Gilligan: But the red ones are pink.
Skipper: Gilligan, I don't care if you pick red white and blue bananas, just pick some bananas!
Gilligan: Okay, Skipper... Blue bananas?

Alan Hale, Jr. plays Jonas Grumby, the "Skipper". A longtime actor in B-westerns and the lookalike son of Alan Hale, Sr., a legendary movie character actor, Hale loved his role so much that, long after the show went off the air, he would still appear in character in his Los Angeles restaurant, Alan Hale's Lobster Barrel. Although the Skipper was a father figure to Gilligan, Hale was only 14 years older than Denver. It is alluded in one episode that Gilligan pushed the Skipper out of the way of a loose depth-charge when they were both serving in the United States Navy.

Jim Backus plays Thurston Howell III, the condescending millionaire. Backus was already a well-known actor when he took the part. He is perhaps best known as the voice of the cartoon character Mr. Magoo, and reused some of the voice inflections and mannerisms of Magoo in the role. He was well known for his ad-libs on the set. The origin of the uber-rich Howell character dates back to 1940's radio when Backus portrayed Hubert Updike III on "The Alan Young Show".

Thurston Howell III: I'd like to charge Mary Ann with murder.
Professor Roy Hinkley: Murder?
Thurston Howell III: Her testimony's killing me.

Natalie Schafer plays Eunice "Lovey" Wentworth Howell, Thurston's wife. Schafer had it written into her contract that there were to be no close-ups of her, perhaps due to her advanced age. Schafer was 63 when the pilot was shot although no one on the set or in the cast knew her real age, and she refused to divulge that information. Originally, she only accepted the role because the pilot was filmed on location in Hawaii. She looked at the job as nothing more than a free vacation, as she was convinced that a show this silly show would "never go".

Tina Louise plays Ginger Grant, the beautiful curvaceous movie star. When regular shooting began, Louise clashed with producers, because she believed that she was to be the main focus of the show. Her character was originally written as a sarcastic and sharp-tongued temptress, but Louise argued that this was too extreme and refused to play it as written. A compromise was reached and Louise agreed to play her as a cross between Marilyn Monroe and Lucille Ball. The evening gowns and hair style used were designed to re-create the look of Myrna Loy. Louise continued to clash with producers and was the only cast member who refused to return for any of the TV movies that followed the series' cancellation, and the fourth season, which was later canceled to make room for GUNSMOKE, saying that the role had destroyed her career as a serious actress. However, she did appear in a reunion of the cast on a late night TV talk show in 1988 and on an episode of ROSEANNE in 1995. In the first season, Ginger often wore gowns that looked as if they were tailored from S.S. Minnow tarps or similar cloth. Later on, she wore regular evening gowns with high heels. However, there were episodes where Ginger wore an almost tropical sarong style outfit while wearing flip flops or going barefoot. It was never explained why she brought so many changes of clothing on a "three-hour tour," though many fans postulate the trunk of silent movie props that washed ashore in one episode provided much of the wardrobe. In the pilot episode the character of Ginger, a secretary, was played by actress Kit Smythe.

Ginger: Wahine wiki huki luki nu, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart.
Gilligan: That's beautiful. What's it mean?
Ginger: It means this bar is off-limits to all military personnel.

Russell Johnson plays Roy Hinkley, the Professor. John Gabriel was originally cast, but the network thought he looked too young to have all the degrees attributed to the Professor. Incongruously, "the Professor" was in fact a high school science teacher, not a university professor. In the first episode, the radio announcer describes him as a research scientist and well-known Scoutmaster. Johnson stated that he had some difficulty remembering his more technically-oriented lines.

Professor: Listen, Gilligan, how far down was she? How many feet?
Gilligan: Professor, in navy circles, we don't say "feet". We say "fathoms".
Professor: Alright, how many fathoms?
Gilligan: Oh I don't know, about 15 feet.

Dawn Wells plays Mary Ann Summers, a sexy farm girl. Wells was a former Miss Nevada when she auditioned for the role. Her competition included Raquel Welch and Pat Priest. The pilot episode has a different character, "Bunny", played by actress Nancy McCarthy. After it was shot, the network decided to recast the roles of the Professor and the two young women.

Charles Maxwell is the uncredited voice of the "Radio Announcer", whose plot-advancing radio bulletins are eagerly tuned in to by the castaways in many episodes, who often pause between blurbs long enough for the characters to speak while reacting to what is reported, sometimes even following with immediate coincidental responses to their comments.

GILLIGAN'S ISLAND ran for a total of 98 episodes. The first season (consisting of 36 episodes) was filmed in black and white, though they were colorized in later syndication. However, the next two seasons (62 episodes) and three TV movie sequels were filmed in color. With solid ratings during its original run, the show grew in popularity during decades of syndication. Today, the title character of Gilligan is widely recognized as a comedic American popular culture icon.

The pilot episode was not broadcast, because of casting changes and restructuring of characters. In the pilot, the part of the Professor is played by John Gabriel. Instead of the movie star and the Kansas farm girl, the pilot has two secretaries: Ginger, a practical redhead played by Kit Smythe, and Bunny, portrayed by Nancy McCarthy as a cheerful, stereotypical "dumb blonde". The pilot has a different theme song, by the young not-yet-famous John Williams, with a Calypso beat and singer and somewhat longer opening credits shots, including scenes of Gilligan carrying the Howells' luggage to the boat, and spilling coffee on the Skipper during the storm. The plot for the pilot episode was eventually recycled into that season's Christmas episode, "Birds Gotta Fly, Fish Gotta Talk", in which the story, concerning the practical problems on landing, is related via a series of flashbacks. Some of the scenes from the pilot episode were re-shot using the current actors, while other scenes with Denver, Hale, Backus, and Schafer were simply reused.

Executive producer Sherwood Schwartz believed in avoiding exposition, and so he composed the theme song, "The Ballad of Gilligan's Isle", as a summary of the castaways' predicament. This was done so that first time viewers would instantly understand the premise. The episode "The Pigeon" places the island approximately 300 miles (480 km) southeast of Hawaii, while the episode "X Marks the Spot" gives a location near 140° longitude, 10° latitude, which puts it about 1,200 miles (1,900 km) to the southeast. In the episode "Big man on a little stick", however, the Professor give the position as "approximately 110° longitude and 10° latitude".

The first episode actually broadcast, "Two on a Raft", is sometimes wrongly referred to as the series pilot. This episode begins with the same scene of Gilligan and the Skipper awakening on the boat (cut slightly differently to eliminate most shots of the departed actors), and continues with the characters on the boat, listening to a radio news report about their disappearance. This is the scene that reveals the names of the Skipper (Jonas Grumby) and the Professor (Roy Hinkley), which appear nowhere else in the series except for an episode in which the Maritime Board of Review blames the Skipper for the loss of the ship. There is no equivalent scene or background information in the pilot, except for the description of the passengers in the original theme song. Rather than re-shooting the rest of the pilot story for broadcast, the show just proceeded on. The plot skips over the topics of the pilot, and the bulk of the episode tells of Gilligan and the Skipper setting off on a raft to try to bring help, but unknowingly landing back on the same island, but on the other side.

The show ran on Saturdays in its debut season, before moving to Thursdays in season two. Though GILLIGAN'S ISLAND's ratings had slumped, the series was still profitable. Nevertheless, it was cancelled at the last minute. Some of the cast had bought houses based on Sherwood Schwartz's news of verbal confirmation that the series would be renewed for a fourth season.

There were 18 directors, most notably Jack Arnold, and 34 writers, most notably Sherwood Schwartz. Others who appear on the show include: Vito Scotti (Dr. Boris Balinkoff), Janos Prohaska (Ape), Eddie Little Sky (Native), Mel Blanc (Parrot voice), Hans Conried (Wrongway Feldman), Denny Miller (Duke Williams), Russ Grieve (Native), George N. Neise (NASA Official), James Spencer (Copilot), and Chick Hearn (Commentator). Original music was composed by: John Williams (20 episodes, 1962-1965), Gerald Fried (9 episodes, 1965), Frank Comstock (3 episodes, 1964), Herschel Burke Gilbert (unknown episodes), and Morton Stevens (unknown episodes).

In a 1978 made-for-TV movie, RESCUE FROM GILLIGAN'S ISLAND, the castaways successfully leave the island, but have difficulty reintegrating into society. During a reunion cruise on the first Christmas after their rescue, fate intervenes and they are marooned on the same island at the end of the film. It stars the original cast except for Tina Louise as Ginger, who refused to participate and was replaced by Judith Baldwin. The plot involves Soviet agents seeking a memory disc from a spy satellite that landed on the island and facilitated their rescue. Gilligan and the Skipper "rescue" Mary Ann right as she is to marry her long time fiance, which contradicts the series where it was established that Mary Ann had no boyfriend after having made up a story about a boyfriend to keep the others from feeling sorry for her.

In a 1979 sequel, THE CASTAWAYS ON GILLIGAN'S ISLAND, they are rescued once again, and the Howells convert the island into a getaway resort, with the other five castaways as "silent partners". Ginger is again played by Judith Baldwin. This sequel was intended as a pilot for a possible new series in which the castaways would host new groups of tourists each week, using the all-star cast anthology format made popular by FANTASY ISLAND and THE LOVE BOAT. The series never materialized, though the premise was the basis of a short-lived 1981 series titled ALOHA PARADISE.

In a second sequel, THE HARLEM GLOBETROTTERS ON GILLIGAN'S ISLAND (1981), villains played by Martin Landau and then-wife Barbara Bain try to take over the island to gain access to a vein of Supremium, a valuable but volatile element. This time, Ginger is played by Constance Forslund. They are thwarted by the timely intervention of the Harlem Globetrotters. Jim Backus, who was in poor health at the time, only appeared at the very end of the episode, arriving back on the island. David Ruprecht played the role of Thurston Howell IV, which is odd, since it was established in the series that the Howells were childless, though he may have been adopted.

Warner Home Video released all three seasons of Gilligan's Island on DVD in Region 1 for the very first time between 2004-2005. The releases feature commentary by creator Sherwood Schwartz and cast members as well as trivia and featurettes. Also included is the pilot episode with a different Professor, Ginger, Mary Ann, and different opening and closing music. The only negative thing is the flipper discs, which require careful handling. In my first season set, the discs are fastened down with a design that makes it extremely difficult to remove the discs. I damaged a disc trying to remove it. GILLIGAN'S ISLAND is virtually unknown in the United Kingdom--only thirteen episodes were ever shown there.

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